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6 November, 2023

How to Become an Optometrist?

Want to learn how to become an Optometrist? In this article, we will review how to become an Optometrist in North America.
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Becoming an optometrist or Doctor of Optometry, is a journey that requires hard work, dedication and perseverance. Optometry programs are generally 4 years, but there are several steps to be done before admission into the doctorate program. Due to the extensive schooling journey, here is a 5-step breakdown on how to become an optometrist in North America.

1️⃣ Complete a Bachelor’s Degree or at Least 90 Credits of Undergraduate Studies

A Bachelor’s degree is generally required for admission into optometry school and includes completion of all required prerequisite courses. However, some schools also accept 90 undergraduate credits, as long as the prerequisite courses are completed as well. The required undergraduate courses generally include:

  • English
  • Psychology
  • Calculus
  • Statistics
  • Physics with Lab
  • Chemistry with Lab
  • Biology with Lab
  • Microbiology with Lab
  • Organic Chemistry with Lab

At the same time, some schools also require other courses, such as:

  • Biochemistry
  • Ethics or Social Science (Economics, Sociology, etc.)
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology

Note that different schools have different academic expectations and standards for their applicants. Often, the GPA of prerequisite courses is weighed differently from other undergraduate courses taken. Therefore, you should look into which schools you want to attend and check the average GPA of their accepted class profiles to see how competitive you are in comparison.

2️⃣ Take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT)

The applications for optometry schools can vary but generally, a standardized test is required – this is most commonly the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). The OAT is a 5-hour exam that tests subjects including Natural Sciences (Biology, General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry), Physics, Quantitative Reasoning and Reading Comprehension. To learn more about the registration process, check out our article on how to register for the OAT. Once you have registered for the OAT, we recommend preparing using a credible resource like OATBooster and studying hard to obtain a competitive OAT score. To learn more about what is considered a competitive score is, check out our article about what is a good OAT score.

That said, a few American schools have started to accept other testing as well, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Dental Admission Test (DAT), and Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). Regardless of which test you take, it is often weighed quite heavily, so make sure to plan ahead and properly prepare to excel on the exam.

3️⃣ Apply and Enroll in an Optometry School

After completing your undergraduate studies and standardized testing, you must apply for optometry school admission. There are currently 23 optometry schools in the United States and 2 in Canada. Aside from completion of prerequisite courses, there are other required application materials. This includes:

  • Personal statement and supplementary essays: these essays are required for all American schools, but not for Canada.
  • Volunteer or extracurricular experience: this includes any leadership experiences with school clubs or local organizations.
  • Optometric experience: this includes any experience in optometric or shadowing positions.
    Police criminal record check
  • Academic and non-academic awards
  • References: most optometry schools require 2 or 3 references (an optometrist, a professor from your undergrad, and/or another person of your choice). This is where shadowing and extracurriculars are important, as you will want to have experience and people who can speak on your academic and professional integrity.
  • CASPer Test and CASPer Snapshot: these are additional tests required by Waterloo and certain American schools that evaluate your communication skills and ethical conduct.
  • Interview: Interviews are offered after a successful application and the interview format varies depending on the school. Generally, you will experience a panel interview with 1-3 faculty members, but certain schools also include a MMI-based portion.

To get a better idea of how competitive each school is in North America, check out our article on Optometry School Statistics.

After all required materials are submitted and a successful interview is completed, you will be admitted into an optometry school. From there, you must complete all 4 years of the program, which includes 3 didactic years followed by 1 year of clinic. After graduating, you can choose to embark on an optional 1-year residency in a specific field of optometry.

4️⃣ Pass the Optometry Board Exams

The board exams are required to obtain an optometry license and practice as an optometrist. They are conducted as separate exams for multiple parts and are often taken during optometry students’ third and/or fourth years of school. Therefore, they require planning and proper preparation.

In the US, the board exam consists of 3 parts and is administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). This test is mandatory for anyone wanting to practice in the US. The 3 parts include Applied Basic Science, Patient Assessment and Management, and Clinical Skills.

In Canada, the board exam consists of 2 parts and is administered by the Optometry Examining Board of Canada (OEBC). The 2 parts include a written exam and an objective structured clinical exam. It is required to practice in Canada, but note that the NBEO test is currently also accepted in British Columbia and Ontario. This means if you are a Canadian student wanting to practice in British Columbia or Ontario, you can choose to take the NBEO or OEBC exam. If you want to practice in any other province or territory, you must take the OEBC exam.

5️⃣ Obtain Your Doctor of Optometry License

After completing and passing the board exam, you must apply for a Doctor of Optometry license and submit any required supplementary material. Once you are licensed, you will be ready to begin the next exciting chapter of your life as an optometrist!

👉 Conclusion

As you can see, the application process and education path towards becoming an optometrist is a lengthy and demanding journey. It takes around 7-9 years after high school to become an official Doctor of Optometry. But once you get there, it will all be worth it. Optometry is a constantly adapting field that is both fulfilling and flexible in terms of what you want to make of your career. Don’t let the process scare you – put in the hard work and you will be rewarded. Good luck!